Maia Mariner on Helping Communities, One Shoe At A Time

BY SOPHIE CHUNG

Here’s how you can give your sneakers a new home.

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23 DEC - 2021

At 16 years old, Maia has successfully reached her goal of creating a charitable trust.

When I think back to my life as a 12 year old, I can recall watching Dragonball Z, going to Taekwondo super excited to kick mitts with my first crush, visiting the Principal’s office for being naughty, and slaying at mathematics. Vastly contrasting to the sheltered and thoughtless childhood that I and many others have had, Maia Mariner, on the other hand, was led by her instinctive need to help others in her community and started a shoe bank for her peers. It’s all the more impressive that she understood the profound importance of giving back and supporting her community at such a young age.

Dubbed ‘Lazy Sneakers,’ Maia created an online community that collects reusable sneakers and distributes them to people who need footwear, all for free. Four years down the track, Lazy Sneakers has distributed 6000+ pairs of sneakers and collected over 5000 with their team of ambassadors who are scattered all around the country.

Now, at 16 years old, Maia has successfully reached her goal of creating a charitable trust and shares with us her philanthropic journey and movement to end material hardship.

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Maia Mariner, Creator of Lazy Sneakers

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How did you come up with Lazy Sneakers at such a young age? How has it transformed throughout the years?

When I was 11 years old, I was playing basketball a lot. I noticed that a few of my friends couldn’t participate with me in the gym or play with me because they didn’t have the proper footwear to. So, they really struggled too. The coach said ‘sorry, you just can’t play.’ And so, I went back to my parents and told them what I had seen. They explained to me that this is a much bigger issue than just my small community, my small group of friends. It’s an issue of material hardship all across New Zealand and so, we brainstormed a few ways we could help my friends at first and we managed to collect 10 sneakers and distribute them. That was a project that was meant to last only about 3 months - just something to help our community, but people got word of what we were doing and asked if we could help them out. It grew into a big network and kept snowballing - and it’s lasted four years now.

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What was your support system like? Was there anyone in particular who inspired you to create a community?

My parents were very supportive of the idea and they were the ones who helped me piece it together when we were first brainstorming - the idea of a shoe bank. The people who inspired me, I guess, are my two nanas. They’re very community based and they really value the community. My nana on my mum’s side, she’s always down at the marae. She’s very present all the time. Even when she’s not supposed to, she’s working and trying to help others. She‘s motivated me to keep going even when I think, ‘Oh I’m going to end it here.’ My family is really community based and that’s what I admire about them and I have to somehow translate that to my own life.

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I hear that you’re doing some kick-ass stuff to inspire confidence in young women - please tell us what you’ve been working on!

We've currently been talking to Puma about working together and a marketing company to help us spread our message. But Puma’s been the most exciting. They really align with our values - our kaupapa. They have a slogan,‘forever kinder,’ which really aligns with us. It’s that whole thing of giving back and paying it forward. And also, Pumas are really great because they encourage female empowerment and entrepreneurship. It’s awesome to be working with such an awesome company when we are still such a small non-profit organisation.

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How did that happen? Did Puma reach out to Lazy Sneakers?

They reached out to us and my dad got the email. He couldn’t quite believe it. We have quite a bit of their athleisure and gear. I actually wear Pumas when I play basketball. They’re in the top 10 most comfortable shoes in the NBA.

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How has the past two years been like for you? How did you navigate through covid?

It was really hard in the first lockdown last year. We had finally figured out a system of how to collect and distribute. When COVID came, it knocked our entire system out because it required a lot of contact and handling of the sneakers, like helping people try them on. And so, we had to adjust how we operated. We couldn’t give out sneakers, we knew that. So, we decided to start an apparel line and took 100% of the profits and donated to communities that were struggling in COVID and that was our way of helping out. We couldn’t provide sneakers, which was sad. And there was another lockdown this year so we had to readjust our system and do that again. But it’s good because when we go into another lockdown, hopefully not, and hopefully not during the summer, then we know what we’re going to do.

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You’re 16 years old and you’ve already got so many amazing things going on - what are your goals from here on out?

Our goal for this year was to become a charitable trust and we’ve achieved that. From now on, our goal is to create permanent collection sites across New Zealand and make sure every community and region is cared for. And also just to create more opportunities for Lazy Sneakers ambassadors and encourage young people all over to look after their communities and where they come from. Make sure they’re doing their part whether it’s just donating the sneakers. We’d love to have more people in our team. We’re actually planning to extend to Brisbane, Australia - more of an international platform would be really cool. Obviously that’s a lot bigger than New Zealand but it’s something to look forward to.

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What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

I definitely have seen some advice recently. When I see a quote I like, I always write it down. I think one was from Ru Paul and it was on their gram. I don’t know it exactly but it was something like, ‘I always believed I was a superstar, so if I believe it, they’ll believe it.’ I thought it was really funny but really cool. It’s about self worth and knowing that you deserve it, then other people will see that too. I think you gotta manifest the energy you put out.

Check out Lazy Sneakers here.
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